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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Incarcerate the Victim

posted by on March 21 at 15:55 PM

I’ve been dying for our latest issue to go up online because I need to hype a story by our news intern, Jonah Spangenthal-Lee.

Going through court records and SPD reports, and talking to the KC prosecutors office, Jonah found an alarming story: King County is seeking a yearlong incarceration sentence in its case against a teenage prostitute.

Can you say blame the victim? Why is KC even prosecuting a teenage prostitute?

Congrats to Jonah on breaking this important story.

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Thanks for the link Josh. It was a well written and thoughtful piece by Jonah. I look forward to additional coverage on this case.

Posted by elswinger | March 21, 2007 4:02 PM

Great story, Jonah. God bless public records. And God bless your tenacity.

Posted by Sam | March 21, 2007 4:03 PM

While it's certainly an interesting piece of investigative journalism, I'm a bit disturbed by the use of conjecture in the story. "One would imagine she had the blade as protection from johns"? "It is obvious that a girl in her teens involved in prostitution is not so much a criminal as she is a victim"?

These statements may be true, but it's not the reporter's place to put his own assumptions in the middle of a news piece.

Posted by joykiller | March 21, 2007 4:41 PM


the first phrase you quote is an assumption/assertion modified by the word 'imagine.' as you point out, the story might be better served by hard fact here.

however, the second phrase you quote is not an assumption. it is a matter of opinion in the form of a question, and it is an important question for the reporter to ask of the prosecutor(s) as well as of the public.

there's a big difference between the two.

Posted by m. | March 21, 2007 5:59 PM

joykiller... this is more assumption and conjecture (on my part), but is it possible that the author of this article did in fact have this information off the record, and this is his way of keeping it in the "officially unconfirmed" realm of things? I'm talking about the blade as protection here (although why else would she have it?), I agree with m. on the second quote.

Posted by e. | March 21, 2007 6:19 PM

Q: Why is KC even prosecuting a teenage prostitute?

A: Because prostitution is illegal in King County - and everywhere else in WA State.

Posted by John | March 21, 2007 6:34 PM

Perhaps the prosecutor is having a torrid relationship with the daughter of a lesbian prison gaurd who really wants a piece of the girl.

Note the difference between conjecture and interpolative judgment.

Posted by kinaidos | March 21, 2007 7:32 PM

If you're looking for some type of objective writing - you're not going to find it in The Stranger and I don't believe anyone there has ever claimed this to be fact.

Posted by Sam | March 21, 2007 9:18 PM

They are asking for way way more time than an adult prostitute would get for the same crime, with the same history. And she IS a victim. It is illegal for adult men to have sex with her whether there is money involved or not. But rather than figure out some way to protect her, we are going to lock her up.

And we got people here on this blog asking for Norm Maleng objectivity about this girl. Sad

Posted by mirror | March 21, 2007 9:25 PM

Why is king county not charging the adult. It is a crime to patronize a prostitute as well. It is shameful that the adults that are preying on these children are not punished, if there were no demand there would not be a supply. Also, why is the state not pursuing the pimps that take advantage of the runaway and throwaway children. It is my understanding that King County has a policy to either arrest the prostitute or the john but not both. It seems to me the greater evil is the john in these cases. The children could be turned over to social services for assistance.

Posted by concerned citizen | March 21, 2007 10:15 PM

"Hype" is right. Where does the story say that KC is seeking a yearlong sentence? Oh, right, it doesn't. Because they're not - the spokesman says the county hasn't decided what it's asking for. Josh, there are plenty of real, live, alarming facts in this story - you don't have to make up more to hype it.

Posted by JTR | March 21, 2007 11:29 PM

Is the "teenage" prostitute a minor? I don't see her age given anywhere. She could be 18 or 19 and still technically be a teenager. That changes the story a bit, doesn't it?

Posted by Questioner | March 21, 2007 11:45 PM

@ 12
She is definitely a minor. We didn't give her specific age because we wanted to shield her ID as much as possible.

Your right about Donahoe's quote, but read earlier in the story where we state explicitly: "[she] faces a potentially harsh sentence: one year incarceration..."

Indeed, KC is seeking 12 to 18 months.

This is based both on Jonah's reporting at the hearing and talking exstensively to the attorneys involved in the case.

You can believe Donahoe's quote if you want. But you're wrong when you say the story doesn't say she's facing a yearlong sentence. It does. It's in the 2nd paragraph.

Posted by Josh Feit | March 21, 2007 11:53 PM

Like Joykiller, I was a bit taken aback by some of the phrasing. I know The Stranger believes in advocacy journalism, but this strays more towards op-ed than any form of news-writing. In addition to what was pointed out before, the line "this seems like a steep prescription..." rings a bit odd as well. Granted, maybe you are just making explicit what writers of "objective" journalism would tend to couch in only slightly more neutral language. That is, maybe it's less a matter of inappropriate advocacy than inappropriate phrasing. But I think the end product doesn't quite do justice to the importance of the story.

Re my point about some "objective" journalists being only slightly more neutral, these sentences would probably be rendered

"Many prostitutes carry weapons to protect themselves from potentially violent johns."

"Some would argue that this is a steep prescription..."

It might seem like splitting hairs, and that both are equally subjective, but the end result at least seems more professional.

Posted by Gabriel | March 22, 2007 1:52 AM

I also think that Josh's characterization of this as "blaming the victim" oversimplifies a sort of complex grey area in policing, where people are put away ostensibly for their own good. You find a similar thing in some cities that suffer very severe winters, where police will actually go around and arrest homeless people in order to lock them up during the worst of the freeze. You can see that the intentions are good, but this should really be handled by other support services.

Posted by Gabriel | March 22, 2007 1:57 AM

Is this actually a case of investigative journalism or is this a complaint by one of your "Escort" advertisers in the back Josh?

I mean, heaven forbid that someone is arrested is doing something illegal.

Posted by P | March 22, 2007 5:06 AM

Time to get a referendum on the ballot decriminalizing prostitution in Seattle.

Posted by Sean | March 22, 2007 7:33 AM

@ 16,

Certainly the SPD should arrest the teenager. But then, rather than trying to incarcerate her for a year, they should try to get her some help. I mean, heaven forbid KC try to provide some social services.

Posted by Josh Feit | March 22, 2007 9:18 AM

"Why is KC even prosecuting a teenage prostitute?"

Control. Control. Control. Same reason that people who try to commit suicide but fail are then brought up on charges of breaking the law.

The state owns your body, and don't you forget it.

Posted by wf | March 22, 2007 9:34 AM

Theres actually a law about that?
You can get charged?

Posted by Beatnik | March 22, 2007 10:12 AM

Josh - no, you are flat wrong. Did you read the story you edited? The story does not say, anywhere, that King County is seeking a yearlong sentence. It says she "faces" 12 months (which is the max for any misdemeanor, right?), but doesn't say that anyone is asking for that. But now, in your comment, you come up with something brand new - where the hell did your "KC is seeking 12 to 18 months" assertion come from? Could be true, but it's nowhere in the story.

That's great that the reporter based the story on interviews and hearings. But if KC is asking for 12 to 18 months - which is an outrage - it didn't make it in your paper. After all, then the story would have said she faces a year and a half, not a year.

Posted by JTR | March 22, 2007 2:58 PM


i can't find the exact wording of the applicable law online at this time (anyone?), but it is my understanding that washington state citizens (and most other united states citizens) can be placed under custody by the authorities not only for attempting suicide, but also for admitting to having suicidal thoughts, and/or for being externally assessed as being in immediate danger of potentially harming one's self.

i have never heard of anyone actually being charged with a crime in such a case (again, anyone?), but if the authorities get involved, i believe general procedure dictates that the person be taken into custody and transported to the nearest approved mental health facility for evaluation, after which they may or may not be voluntarily or involuntarily committed.

Posted by m. | March 22, 2007 9:22 PM

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